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Coaching - The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Theory

Coaching is not easy.  Duties include a philosophy, practice plans, game plans, keeping a squeaky clean past to be a role model, motivation of players and staff, trust, delegation, desire to help players develop along with other responsibilities.  Oh, don't forget a winning record.  Is there a theory for this?

The Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum is a contingency leadership theory developed in 1958.  This theory is based on the idea that leadership styles such as autocratic or democratic are extremes and leadership practices in real life situations lye somewhere between the two.


Over time, a coach should aim to take the team up the scale, at which point you should also aim to have developed one or a number of people within your organization to take responsibilities.  This process can take time, so be patient, explain what you’re doing, and be aware constantly of how your team is responding and developing.

Delegating freedom and decision-making responsibility to a team absolutely does not absolve you, the coach, of accountability. That’s why delegating, whether  requires a very confident coach.  If everything goes well, the team must get the credit; if it all goes horribly wrong, the coach must take the blame.  This is entirely fair, because the coach is ultimately responsible for judging all given situations – including the risks entailed – and the level of freedom that can safely be granted to the team to deal with.  This is not actually part of the Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum, but it’s vital to apply this philosophy or the T-S  model will definitely be weakened, or at worse completely back-fire.

 Below are added explanations to the Tannenbaum-Schmidt Continuum that should make it easier to understand and apply.

1. The Coach decides and tells the decisions.

The coach reviews options the examination of goals, issues, priorities, timeframe, etc., then decides the actions and informs the team of the decision.  The coach will probably have considered how the team will react, but the team plays no active part in making the decision.  The team may well perceive that the coach has not considered the team’s welfare at all.  This is seen by the team as a purely task-based decision, which is generally a characteristic of X-Theory style. For information about X-Theory here's a link ... www.businessballs.com/mcgregor.htm

2. The coach decides and sells the decisions to the team.

The coach makes the decisions mentioned above, and then explains reasoning for the decisions, particularly the positive benefits that the team will enjoy from the decision.  In so doing the coach is seen by the team to recognize the team’s importance, and to have some concern for the team.

3. The coach presents the decisions with reasons and invites questions.

The coach presents his decisions along with some brief background that led to the decisions.  The team is invited to ask questions and discuss  the rationale behind the decision, which enables the team to understand and accept or agree with the decision more easily.  This more participative and involving approach enables the team to appreciate the issues and reasons for the decision, and the implications of all the options. This has a motivational approach because of the higher level of team involvement and discussion.

4. The coach invites discussion.

The coach discusses and reviews the decisions with the team on the basis that he/she will consider the views and make a decision. This enables the team to have some real influence over the shape of the manager’s final decision. This also acknowledges that the team has something to contribute to the decision-making process, which is more involving and therefore motivating than the previous level.

 When negative issues arise how does this theory work?  You've structured a cohesive environment that can influence and remove any negative situations from your organization utilizing peer pressure.

The coach presents the situation or problem, gets suggestions, then decides.

The coach presents the situation, and some options, to the team.  The team is encouraged and expected to offer ideas and additional options, and discuss implications of each possible course of action.  The coach then decides which option to take. This level is one of high and specific involvement for the team, and is appropriate particularly when the team has more detailed knowledge or experience of the issue.

The coach explains the situation, defines the parameters and asks the team to decide.

At this level the coach has effectively delegated responsibility for the decision pertaining any negative issues to the team, albeit within the coach’s limits.  While this level appears to gives a huge responsibility to the team, the coach can control the risk and outcomes to an extent, according to the constraints that he stipulates.  This level is more motivational than any previous, and requires a mature team and experienced coach for any serious situation. (Remember that the team must get the credit for all the positive outcomes from the decision, while the manager remains accountable for any resulting problems or disasters.  This isn’t strictly included in the original Tannenbaum and Schmidt definitions, so it needs pointing out because it’s such an important aspect of delegating, motivating and leadership).

It's obviously the coaching staff and organization that determines what is, or is not, allowed to happen in the representation of the team.  This includes on field and off field activities.

 Z